The first joint summit to be held by the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) is scheduled to take place in Lisbon on 3 April (see NA Sept 2002). It is now in jeopardy because of politics over Zimbabwe.
The Greek foreign minister, George Papandreou, the current holder of the EU presidency, has warned that the Lisbon summit might not go ahead. Britain and five other EU members have said they won't attend if Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, was invited. In response, several African countries have vowed not to attend if Mugabe was not invited, It promises to be a baffle royal that will benefit nobody.
The background to this Portuguese diplomatic initiative, with the co-operation of Greece, in their tenure of the EU presidency, is very revealing of modern Africa's relations with the West. Already France, in its eagerness to steal the limelight of EU-Africa diplomacy, has managed to overshadow, or even scupper, the Lisbon summit by calling its own France-Africa summit (20-21 Feb) in Paris, barely two months ahead of the Lisbon summit.
All in all, against the background of European division over the US war on Iraq for oil and over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the British obsession with Zimbabwe has not only put in jeopardy the EUAfrican dialogue, but also EU-AcP relations and probably the cohesion of the commonwealth, particularly in what refers to African member-countries.
The joint Portuguese-Greek co-operation on the Lisbon summit is based upon a concept that is particularly pertinent to EU-African relations. Unlike the United States, both the EU and AU are not monolithic political blocs. They are, and should be, associations of nations with flexibility to accommodate their diversity of inherited national interests. If Blair's Britain and Bush's America join in sanctions against Zimbabwe (as they have already done), that is their imperialist business, not Europe's.
On the contrary, the joint Greek-Portuguese co-operation, at a time when the EU has just been enlarged, was conceived to show to Africans that not all Europe was, or is, imperialist. Greece, itself, had a century-long period of oppression under the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, while modern Portugal is not only a reformed colonialist but like Greece, shares an aversion to imperialism (despite its current centrist government).
Ireland, for example, was itself colonised by the English, and the Polish never knew which of its stronger neighbours, Germany or Russia, would pass...